Ditto? Is this a repeat of last week? Are we beating a dead horse – sorry, couldn’t resist the image. Well, in a way, you could see this as an extension of last week’s emphasis on the bodily resurrection of Jesus and then of us. You could see it as a continuation of the affirmation of the goodness of this life, of bodies, of humanity and the world in which we live. It certainly isn’t a denial of any of that. But there seems to be a further point in this text, as Paul continues his appeal to the church in Corinth. Except now he is asking for transformation.
If we just stop with flesh is good, bodies are good, this life is good, then there isn’t much reason to grow. We are what we are, and we just need to learn to be content with that. That is an important step in our discipleship journey. But contentment is not complacency. We can grow; we can reach higher; we can live deeper. We are alive, but it isn’t hard to deny that we could be more alive. We could tune into the world and activity of the Spirit in mind-blowing ways right now. And it could begin as simply as learning to ask, and keep asking, “Where have you seen God today?”
Worship can be a way of opening the eyes of the congregation to the presence of God at work in their midst, in their lives. It can also call forth a response to that awareness as we take yet another step in the path of discipleship. Worship could provide directions for those who are wondering what the next step in their transformation needs to be (or could be). What spiritual disciplines will help them move from the physical to the spiritual, as Paul discusses in our text for this week? This isn’t, we say again, a denial of the place of the physical. We are physical beings, and Jesus was most concerned with what we do with our lives and resources. That won’t change in this life. But we can also be open to another reality: the spiritual.
How could our prayer lives be better? How can we sing in a way that brings us into communion with the Holy Spirit? What is the value of meditation? Or of praying the scriptures? There are many spiritual disciplines that can help us pay attention to this dimension of our faith. And note, earlier in the series we were talking about spiritual gifts; now we are talking about spiritual disciplines; these are not then same thing. There may be some overlap. If someone, for example, has the spiritual gift of prayer, then his/her discipline of praying would work different than in the life of a person who didn’t have that gift.
Last week, we suggested taking a look at Christmas songs to see references to the Incarnation as a way of capturing something of what Paul was saying to the Corinthians about the Resurrection of the body. Here again, we can grab a familiar Christmas verse to speak into the meaning of this moment. “Away in a Manger” might seem to be a song for children, and certainly it is beloved by young ones for various reasons. It is the last verse, the fifth in the original, that might be a help for framing worship this week:
Bless all the dear children / In Your tender care / And fit us for heaven / To live with You there.
Did you catch it? That third phrase, “fit us for heaven”: that’s what we’re talking about when we talk about the transformation and the interplay between the physical and the spiritual. Fit us. Admit it; you thought it was “take us to heaven.” That’s how many people sing it. But originally, it was about that transformation that we, with the help of the Spirit sent by Christ, undergo right now and right here. Our discipleship path and our journey to heaven are the same journey. That is the glory that we are aiming toward; that is the promise that Paul reminds us of when he tells us that we will be raised in glory. Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.